Lazy Luddite Log


Words & Pictures

”Hey, wait, I’m having one of those things, you know, a headache with pictures”

This line from Futurama suggests that the character Philip J Fry thinks in the same way that I do: I am constantly seeing things. Right now as I draft this entry I am seeing the relevant scene from Futurama. I am also seeing the computer screen I am working with. And as I think more generally of thinking in images I am also seeing the site of recent MonUCS rehearsal camps. Why this last one?

Well it is just once instance of how I cannot think free of images. The next rehearsal camp will have a new venue to which I have never yet been. So I cannot imagine what it will be like with the normal accuracy of such imaginings. As I anticipate the coming camp I cannot help but visualise the old campsite. That will change once I have been there but for now my experience shapes my thinking thus.

A more common instance of this ‘always seeing things’ is in phone conversations – if I am talking with a friend on the phone I will involuntarily be imagining them sitting at home and – once more – if I have never been to that home then I have to substitute some other likely setting in. I cannot be free of such imaginings.

My writing on this topic arose from a conversation at a party recently in which the different ways in which we experience thinking was discussed. As well as discussing images we also discussed words. Seems that many of us (me included) tend to think in conversations and (in my case for instance) those conversations tend to be in English. One person in this conversation however suggested that they think in concepts rather than in words and pictures. This puzzled those of us whose minds are picture story books or narrated documentary shows. I cannot even imagine such a thing. But possibly a more technically minded or mathematical person will do this. Maybe they think in ‘Mentalese’ (a term I came across on Wikipedia) rather than any language for communication.

In another conversation I had (in which I referenced the original one) I then introduced emotions into the mix. I may think in words and pictures but I feel emotions. These seem to exist independent of words and pictures (even if sometimes they will be associated with them) and if emotion is a kind of thought then I am experiencing pure thought free of linguistic or sensory representations.

There are whole academic disciplines that focus on these matters and which I cannot begin to discuss here. This then is the ramblings of one interested layperson. It stands as a record of the kind of things that arise in conversations of nerds. Shall I also tell you of the recent party I attended in which a thesaurus became the focus of attention? Possibly some other time.



  • I tend to do my primary thinking in non-word form. I do think to put things in to words when I have to communicate, but it's a distinctly different layer of thought, and kind of tedious. This might just be me being how I am. I've only recently confirmed that my experience of thinking is not common to everyone.

    It's hard to describe the non-verbal thinking process verbally. It is more a sensation, so analogy, however inadequate, will have to suffice. I get gestural, postural sensations as ideas form and shift and combine. It "feels" vaguely like I'm manipulating concepts as though they were physical forms in space. There is texture, weight, balance, viscosity, attitude, gravity, layers. There is a library of ideas which have been assigned to symbols and sorted / stored in arrays. I'm sure everyone has this, but perhaps they are unaware of it, so don't see past a surface layer of verbal expression?

    When I am thinking hard I like to stand very still, and sometimes hold my breath to provide less interference and clearer focus. I see other people do this. Are they consciously watching ideas slip around like surreal, shape-shifting 4D tetris at some level, or simply composing a sentence? I don't know.

    My thoughts do get 'wordy' when the problem I am confronted with is one of communication on an issue I am passionate about. I find that listening to instrumental music quells the verbiage in my head and gives me access to the 'coal face' where the raw thoughts are. Writing things down also helps to clear my mind of unresolved thoughts.

    Perhaps anyone who observes their thinking processes will notice that thinking happens at more than the 'wordy' level, and that the 'word processed thoughts' come after the raw thinking has occurred?

    By Blogger Jac, At 14 April, 2008  

  • I do notice that raw thinking happens under the wordy thinking but in me the wordy thinking is so strong (so much so I sometimes wish to be rid of it as it is slower than the raw thinking). I think this happens because so much of what I think about involves conversations - what has been or will be discussed or how particular things could be described.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 12 May, 2008  

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